Peaceful Elections a Symbol of Timor’s Maturing Democracy
Citizens of East Timor, one of the world’s newest and poorest nations, headed to the polls Saturday to vote for the country’s next president. On the brink of civil war in 2006, the country has achieved a measure of political stability over recent years. This year’s campaign period has been markedly peaceful, but the election is a key test for the impoverished, yet oil-rich nation.
East Timorese are choosing a president for just the second time since the country was granted independence in 2002.
The election is shaping up to be a three-way race between incumbent and Nobel Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta, Francisco ‘Lu Olo’ Guterres, from the Fretilin Party, and former military chief Taur Matan Ruak.
At a polling station in Dili, Charlie Sheiner, an analyst from the Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis, says the day’s turnout and relatively peaceful campaign period highlight the growing maturity of East Timor’s democracy.
“I think the election cycle indicates this year that from a process of democracy or as a constitutional country, Timor Leste is becoming normal,” he said. “The fact that the campaign was relatively free of incidents, that the voting today seems to be going smoothly indicates that people have in their day to day world made the transition from living under military occupation or colonial occupation for centuries, to be able to decide their own future and choose their own leaders and the course of their own nation.”
Since the brutal occupation by Indonesia and the brush with civil war in 2006, East Timor has enjoyed a measure of political security.
If this month’s presidential election and the upcoming parliamentary vote in June run smoothly, the contingent of U.N. and Australian troops is scheduled to pull out of the country by the end of the year.
East Timor is often described as ”an impoverished country with a very large bank account.” Ninety percent of East Timor’s Gross Domestic Product is derived from oil and gas.
With almost half of the population living below the poverty level, how the new government spends that revenue will be crucial to the country’s development.
Charlie Scheiner says that
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